That Awkward Moment When They Sign an Expensive RP
The Orioles went into the 2007 off-season with one main priority. The Orioles bullpen ranked near the bottom of the league, posting a 19-25 record with a 5.27 ERA (29th) and a 5.45 FIP (30th). It was clear that they needed to somehow, someway, bolster the pen. Orioles management went on to sign three relief pitchers.
The first, Chad Bradford, had been a strong asset to the Athletics and Mets bullpens' in years past. He was given a 3-year $10M deal. the second, Jamie Walker, had also been a formidable bullpen arm throughout his career with the Tigers. He was given a 3-year $12M deal. The third pitcher, Danys Baez, had been a strong closer for the Rays before getting traded to the Dodgers and struggling a little. He was given a 3-year $19M deal. Overall, the Orioles shelled out a total of $41M on three relief pitchers. None of them were closers. Take a look at their numbers the year before their deal, and the year(s) after:
These statistics do not look terrible at first glance. Bradford went on to pitch at a respectable performance, possibly warranting his $10M deal an asset instead of a sunk cost. However, the Walker and Baez numbers are far less impressive. Walker essentially pitched one above-average season before plummeting below a respectable level of performance. That means he was paid $12M for one above-average season out of the bullpen in a non-closer role. The Baez contract is even worse. He had a horrific first season with the Orioles and then missed the entire 2008 season due to injury. He had an average season in 2009, but it did not nearly make up for the terrible contract he was given. The Phillies then went on to sign Baez, and it was the same story all over again. below-average numbers and a decent amount of money spent on him.
So why do teams bother spending such a high amount of money on relief pitchers if they usually tend to backfire or not live up to their expectations? The 2007 Orioles are a prime example of why it is not a good idea to throw around silly amounts of money to them. Funny enough, it seems even the Orioles did not learn from their mistakes. Take at look at the next two pitchers on this dubious list:
Most Orioles fans know the deal with Gonzalez and Gregg. Gonzalez was given a 2-year $12M deal, while Gregg was given a 2-year $10M contract with a $6M club option. Both were supposed to become the closer. Both pitchers lost the closer role and have now become painful memories for the fans. It's never been a good idea to overpay for a relief pitcher, and it probably never will be. Of course there are exceptions like Mariano Rivera, and even some other low-risk guys such as Ryan Madson on his 1-year deal this year with the Reds. I think most fans would not have a problem with that since the Reds made significant gains this off-season and could compete in their division this year. Take a look at a few AL East signings that have potentially come to bite them in the rear-end recently:
Obviously the Soriano deal brought plenty of backlash from the fans. His 3-year $35M deal looks to be a huge overpay. This is for a setup man. Obviously the Yankees have the luxury of making a signing like this, but that does not mean it was a good signing by any means. I will assume Soriano pitches better this season, but recent history shows that these expensive relief pitcher deals rarely work out. The Jenks deal has been a disaster for the Red Sox. After a decent season in 2010, he went on to pitch a measly 15.2 innings for them. He has already been placed on the 60-day DL for the 2012 season. I put Rauch on this list because of the type of team he signed with. The Jays were a lot like the Orioles last year in an aspect. They had enough hitting to compete, but the pitching was a work-in-progress. Of course they had the luxury of a front-line pitcher in Ricky Romero, but they had little depth at the major league level after him. Rauch was a veteran arm coming off a good season with the Twins, and he presumably was figured to solidify the back-end of the pen. Of course as the numbers indicate above, he had a poor season. At $3.5M it was not a terrible signing, but not exactly the best use of money for a team still a little bit away from truly contending.
In conclusion, relief pitching is a tough water to tread through during free agency. Teams such as the Orioles are probably better off going after guys with upside or cheaper options, such as Pedro Strop, Darren O'day, and even Luis Ayala to an extent. These guys might not light the world on fire, but they are cheaper, can be just as effective, and don't limit the teams' spending in other areas like a Kevin Gregg type signing does. Other clubs have made similar signings as well. The Red Sox found a gem in Alfredo Aceves last season. They paid triple the amount for Bobby Jenks, and probably got triple the value out of Aceves. The Rays found a gem in Kyle Farnsworth at $2.6M, which was cheaper than guys such as Jenks, Gregg, and Gonzalez in 2011. Maybe the Orioles have finally realized that spending more is not always the best idea, as Dan Duquette spent much less on the pen than the Orioles have in years past (although he did trade for Lindstrom and take on his $3.6M salary). In the future, it probably is not a good idea to go overboard on relief pitching.
http://entoriole.blogspot.com/2012/02/t ... -sign.html
It's kind of sad as an Orioles fan to read this, but it's what they did for a large part of the past decade.